Corbett's lottery bet
Pennsylvania's push to privatize its lottery -- or, as I like to call it, fixing a problem that doesn't exist -- presents political risk and opportunity for Republican Gov. Corbett.
Such is the case with anything big that any politician proposes, which is why we see so little public policy seriously offered that could be called, well, big.
So, at a minimum, Corbett gets props for being out there on something, even if it's something questionable.
But the risks are large.
The entire issue could become a Gordian knot, as Democrats and a state workers' union seek to tie it up in procedure and litigation.
There's a lawsuit in Commonwealth Court, filed by District Council 13 of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees; some lottery employees; and some Democratic lawmakers, including Philadelphia's Sen. Tina Tartaglione and Rep. Mike O'Brien.
It contends that lottery privatization and expansion violates the state Constitution and the 1971 lottery law.
The administration, of course, says it does not.
There's an unfair-labor-practice filing (about 100 union jobs are in question). And three new Democratic state officials could cause Corbett headaches.
The deal requires a sign-off from Attorney General Kathleen Kane, who gets 30 days to review it; state Treasurer Rob McCord says that he won't pay a private contractor until he's certain it's legal; and state Auditor General Gene DePasquale could rain down audits on anything post-deal that smells even a tad suspicious.
Such multiple tugs-of-war can divert attention and resources from Corbett's real challenges, such as public-pension reform, transportation funding and a new state budget in a year that could prove critical to his re-election bid.
And all this offers opponents the chance to broad-brush the governor as more interested in deals that line the pockets of lawyers and consultants than in solving problems facing the state.
Consultants, financial advisers and lawyers could split "Mega Millions," up to $30 million in fees. A cynic might suggest that some of that could come back in campaign contributions.
And the current lottery works well.
So you can see that if such an image is created and sustained how it might obstruct Corbett's planned path to a second term.
But the opportunity that privatizing lottery management presents offers the potential for a different portrayal.
If the deal goes through (a contract could be signed in a matter of days and approved finally within a month or so), Corbett could come off as a progressive, forward-thinking leader in a state usually bereft of same.
After all, the administration asserts that the British firm Camelot Global Services, which runs the British National Lottery, will deliver a larger profit and therefore increased services for the elderly -- in a state with 1.9 million residents 65 and older -- which could prove to be a political "Powerball."
Camelot is saying that it intends to hire some affected lottery employees, and the administration is saying that it will keep others on the state payroll.
AFSCME boss Dave Fillman, however, notes that there are still "no guarantees."
Camelot claims that it can deliver up to $1.8 billion more than the current system over 10 years for lottery programs such as low-cost prescription drugs and property-tax rebates. This would be done by expanding the lottery-buying base with new games and online access to games.
And if Corbett's deal works out, it could put some wind behind another privatization effort, one that's now stalled: selling off the state stores.
Generally, I detest on-the-one-hand, on-the-other-hand analysis. But at the moment, it's unclear if contracting the lottery is a good idea, bad idea, legal, not legal, political brilliance or political bumbling.
All that's clear right now is that it offers risks and opportunities, and it'll take time to see just how it plays.
But I'm betting that Corbett's thinking that ya gotta play to win.